Rampage forward Eric Selleck had never met Jimmy Sauceda before Wednesday night. For the 6-foot-2, 200-pound forward, meeting someone new during the season usually means some rough stuff during the course of a game.
However, a room full of board games and puzzles proved to be a far cry from the sights and sounds of the AT&T Center ice. And Jimmy Sauceda wasn’t an opponent – far from it. Instead, he was a friend, and one whose bond formed instantly with the rough and tumble winger.
Selleck and Sauceda, a six year old from San Antonio, were brought together as part of the San Antonio Rampage’s annual Face Off Against Kids Cancer initiative, which kicked off Wednesday night at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.
The event, which is in its fourth year, buddies up a Rampage player with a child from the Centers for Oncology and Blood Disorders. Over the course of the year the Rampage will hold events where the player and his buddy will bond.
The players met their new buddies for the first time on Wednesday night leading up to Saturday’s game, which marks Face-Off Against Kids Cancer Night, presented by the Little Fighter Foundation.
“It’s a joy to come back and be with the kids and help them have a good day,” said Selleck, who is in his second year with the program. “We all enjoy doing it and it’s a great time.”
Some of the biggest smiles from Jimmy and Selleck came from the back of the room while shooting at a mini-basketball hoop. Despite his size advantage, Selleck can’t seem to get a shot past Jimmy, as his new buddy laughs with glee at another denial.
Around them, the room is packed with activity. Goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris plays cards with a boy while munching on some pizza. Rookie defenseman John Lee helps a little girl grab some extra lollipops from the high counter, and captain Nolan Yonkman designs a house with his buddy made of Lincoln Logs.
For the children, they are nothing but smiles throughout the night. Even if they had never been to a Rampage game, or even watched any hockey game, it was evident that they were ecstatic over making a new friend.
“It means a lot,” said Bernice Guerro, Jimmy’s mother. “He’s blind out of his left eye because of a tumor. We’ve been through so much over the last year but it’s great that someone can come and be a role model for him.”
“It’s great to come down here, especially when it’s playing with kids who are going tough times in their lives,” Selleck said. “It’s good to just come and put a smile on their face.”
Over the course of the season the players and their buddies will meet up for several events. Last year, the Rampage and their buddies met up at Sea World and at the Rodeo.
“I think the kids and parents truly appreciate the one-on-one interaction and attention that they get from the players, and that’s what makes the whole program special,” said Rampage broadcaster Dan Weiss.
“Running Face-Off Against Kids Cancer now for four years in San Antonio and nine years overall, the smiles you see on the faces of both the players and children are probably some of the best images that the program brings about.”
Back in the playroom the players and their buddies gather for a group picture. Selleck and Jimmy almost miss it because the child insists a just a little more basketball. They both return in time and Selleck assures him that they will hang out again soon.
And even as they walk away, the smile still remains.